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the mommyhood memos: tackling toddler tantrums (kicking off the series)

Monday, March 21, 2011

tackling toddler tantrums (kicking off the series)

This weekend we had our first “mall tantrum”. It wasn’t as epic as most I’ve seen. In fact, it was a strange and hilarious combination of mild protesting and theatrical maneuvers. But it was a public tantrum nonetheless.

Both Ryan and I had to muster every ounce of self-control to keep from laughing.

Having no idea about the mall’s opening hours on a Sunday, we arrived a good 45+ minutes before shops opened. Instead of leaving and coming back we decided to take the opportunity to do a loop around the sparsely populated mall and let Levi roam free, stopping to touch and check out and touch every interesting mirror, door, plant, and who-knows-what that caught his eye. It was nice to not have to rush through errands like we normally do and fun to watch his curiosity lead him from one shop window to another.

But soon more and more people trickled in, the shops started to open, and coffee and cinnamon donuts began to call this expecting mama by name. As fun as it had been, I decided we were done “roaming aimlessly” and that I would pick up Levi and carry him for the rest of the short walk to our destination.

As I tried to pick him up, Levi immediately did the backwards swan dive in protest. When he does this I routinely put him on the floor and walk away. Mommy’s not going to entertain a tantrum, whether it’s at home or surrounded by onlookers.

{since i have no photos of levi mid-tantrum, i thought i'd show you him totally relaxed instead.}

As soon as I put him on the floor, he began what looked like a synchronized swimming routine in slow motion. He rolled onto his tummy, stretched his arms and legs out, rolled onto his back and then his tummy again, did the cobra position, transitioned into the downward dog, and then looked over to where Ryan and I were standing so he could see our reaction.

It was at this point we were desperately trying to hold it together… it was outrageously funny. (I admit that it did help that the mall was still fairly quiet and only a few people actually witnessed the little scene.)

He saw that we were not impressed or reacting and then sat up clearly disappointed and defeated. It was at this point where I walked back over to him, asked him if he’d like to try again, and picked him up without a struggle to walk the rest of the way. Of course he was happy and carefree – not at all affected by the mini-drama that had unfolded just moments before.

But here’s the key: As much as Levi walks away from a tanty having virtually forgotten what just happened, I’m also learning not to let them dictate the rest of my day either.

When he first started throwing fits, I felt helpless and clueless and outright discouraged. Having worked in childcare for years I’ve had the opportunity to deal with tantrums in toddlers and preschoolers before… but our little guy started exerting his independence at eight months old. Yes, we’re talking throwing himself at my feet and rolling around screaming on the floor – all-out tantrums beginning at a mere eight months! I was beside myself with shock and surprise to see this happening so early.

But now, with a few months under my belt, I’m feeling much more at ease addressing this part of the development process. It’s all a part of growing-up – both Levi as a little toddler and me as a confident mother.

Granted, this little mall tanty was a mild one—and we’ve had many occasions of dealing with much worse ones in this house—but I do feel like I’m understanding more and more how to best handle these suckers when they arrive. I’m no expert, and there are many more moms out there who are far more experienced than I am, but I want to share some of what I’ve learned so far…

So..... come back tomorrow for my tips and tricks for dealing with toddler meltdowns!! (Otherwise this post would just get far too long!)

Dear friends, the experts say that throwing tantrums is a normal part of the development phase as babies and toddlers learn to exert their independence. For some it really kicks in around two or three years old, for others around a year old, and still for others even earlier than that. When did your child start with his/her first tantrums? And was it a phase that lasted long?

learning to stay calm, firm, and patient,

See also:

  1. The nature of the storm: 12 things every parent should know about dealing with tantrums
  2. Preparing for the storm: 7 ways to batten down the hatches before a tantrum hits 
  3. In the midst of the storm: 7 methods of coping with tantrums 
  4. The aftermath of the storm: 9 do’s and don’ts of post-tantrum follow-up 

linking in with chelsea for the "green" challenge:
The Paper Mama

adriel booker | the mommyhood memos | 2011
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At March 21, 2011 at 8:38 PM , Blogger Colleen said...

He sounds adorable.:) I will definitely be coming by tomorrow to see what you have to say because my own little guy is getting to this stage now and I have to admit, it is bewildering. I also worked in childcare but somehow I feel far more discouraged when I can't get my own son to do what I want.:)

At March 21, 2011 at 9:59 PM , Blogger Kerry McCullough said...

I can't wait to see your tips! I'm really navigating through this with little experience-- no sisters, brothers, nieces or nephews. I find that if I stay calm but firm, that works best, but there are always times when nothing works and I get REALLY stressed when there are onlookers. I think you've got a great system there of walking away for a bit and then coming back and trying again, but Niall has been doing this thing lately where I try to let go of him and he throws his whole body violently into the ground, so if I don't hold onto him, it's almost like I'm hurting him (or letting him hurt himself.) It's so tough. I love getting other mom's perspectives on handling tantrums.

At March 21, 2011 at 11:21 PM , Blogger Wendy said...

Caleb is doing this now as well. He started around a year old and is almost 17 months now. I can't wait to see some of the things you have tried.

At March 21, 2011 at 11:26 PM , Blogger Lindsey said...

Our little one is really getting into the Toddler tantrum thing too. Usually when getting picked up or during diaper changes and the like. I just keep going like there is no tantrum or say "That's enough" and keep going. When at home and she's throwing a fit about a toy or something, I usually walk away. Now, what we really need tips on is the sharing issue. She swipes toys from everyone!

Lindsey @

At March 21, 2011 at 11:31 PM , Blogger Isabel said...

I don't always get to be around my baby but whenever I am with him, I always get a chance to learn something, like his throwing tantrums by throwing his body back in protest. It's good to learn something from other moms about this thing coz I'm sure I'm going to experience more of this in the future. So, I'll be tuning in to your post tomorrow.

By the way, thanks for visiting my site and the nice comment. I love Levi's relaxing picture and his name. :)

At March 22, 2011 at 1:40 AM , Blogger Nessa said...

i can't wait for part 2... we have been having tantrums for the longest time - I think since she realized she could have an opinion. The new things are throwing herself down on the floor - head first - and hitting.

And that picture... oh what a pretty one. That light is amazing.

At March 22, 2011 at 4:22 AM , Blogger cooperl788 said...

Georgia's been having tantrums since she was about 16 months, and we're still in the thick of things at 2 years old. I use the same technique as you, and it works really well... most of the time. But honestly, I think tantrums are going to happen no matter how skillfully you deal with them. Toddlers are learning that they are separate from mom, and that means flexing those independent spirits as they learn the boundaries. I just try to keep in mind that she's gathering information about the rules and boundaries when she tantrums, and that helps me to keep a cool(er) head.

At March 22, 2011 at 5:29 AM , Blogger Melissa (Confessions of a Dr. Mom) said...

My son started right around 18months old and I realized quickly that they usually occurred when we had to switch activities, transition periods. I then tried to head them off by giving him a heads up on what would come next. For instance, I would say, okay in 2 minutes we have to go home. He seemed to really thrive on that, he needed to know what was coming next instead of me just scooping him up and moving on to the next thing.

Looking forward to the next post. Oh, and? He calmed quickly when I validated his feelings...he realized I understood his frustration.

At March 22, 2011 at 5:59 AM , Blogger Courtney K. said...

Oh boy. The backward swan dive. We know about that one. My son is 2 1/2 and we deal with tantrums pretty regularly. Most of the time they only last a few minutes. I've learned that as long as I IGNNORE him, they stop. And holding it together when his tantrums are too hilarious for words is the hardest thing EVER. :) Sounds like you handled it really well!

At March 22, 2011 at 8:25 AM , Blogger alison said...

ava is freshest on my mind, so i'll go with her tantrum beginnings. she kicked off her "theatrics" about 3 weeks ago (17 months old). she can throw down on some doozies! as you were talking about levi looking at you to see if you were watching...i had to laugh because ava does that too. it's really hard not to giggle when she does that, but then again i know that if i DO giggle, she's getting a reaction. and that is never good!

At March 22, 2011 at 10:54 AM , Blogger Cameron said...

I am excited about tomorrow! Isis has started doing some tantrum-type things. She lasted a little longer than Levi before starting, but they're still not fun now! haha looking forward to your tips!

At March 22, 2011 at 11:38 AM , Blogger Megan said...

Oh gosh, I don't have any kids yet, but I feel like I would be so unprepared for a tantrum! I can't wait to read your tips!


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